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Last Moments with Biliran

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By Kristian Jacob Abad Lora
BSCS-1, UP Cebu
September 02, 2009

My home-province is Biliran. Yet, many of my acquaintances would ask me where Biliran is and what good things Biliran has. This descriptive essay of mine was written as an assignment in my COMM-1 class in the 1st sem when I was still a 1st Year student in UP Cebu. This will describe some things that one would love to see in Biliran.

The loud yet melodious clangs of two church bells in duet soothed my mind and heart from melancholy. Soon, I had to leave the province of Biliran that witnessed how I grew on its bosoms for almost sixteen years. The idea of leaving my home-province and stay somewhere out of it for years made me feel like someone in my life passed away. Nonetheless, such transient feeling of intense sadness might be needed in exchange of pursuing for higher quality of tertiary education, which I thought I could find in the neighboring province of Cebu.

Biliran is a small island-province that is like a shell of a pearl totally covered by green moss while lying on the Orient Seas for millennia. It is surrounded by gigantic provinces of Leyte, Masbate and Samar. Specifically, it lies on the northwest of Leyte. Folks would say that Biliran used to be connected to Leyte by an isthmus that one could travel back and forth by just riding on a horse. However, a nymph filled with wrath after being disturbed by some folks arose from the sea and washed out the isthmus so that they could no longer cross to the other side. This mythical incident created another image of Biliran as an island – the head of a “beheaded” Leyte. Cebu, on the other hand, appears to be extending its tentacle to somehow touch the small island-province and share its developments which is manifested by Biliranon merchants retailing Cebuano products to be sold in their stores.

Meanwhile, when my parents and I went out of the church, that I always think to be the most wonderful church in the country, I took a quick last look at its façade. The base of the church that resembles trapezoidal shape is dressed in light pink paint that will make one joyful in spite of problems and encourage him to get inside and pray for the things that bother him. On top of the base seems to be the crown of the church where a balcony built in Roman art surrounds it. Within the balcony stands an averagely tall trapezoidal tower that serves as the domicile of the two church bells, which have been swaying as a couple since the day the church was installed. On its front surface is the embedded large mosaic of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary – the patron saint of the town – that was splendidly assembled out of colored glass. The huge dirty-white cross at the very top of it emphasizes the regality of the church.

I almost changed my mind to stay but the church bells swinging untiringly side-to-side were seemingly bidding me goodbye and telling me that I had to go. Mystically, the ringing of the bells resided when we were already on our way back home which was just few meters away from the church. The Celestial King rose behind the majestic green mountains and widely stretched its arms as it greeted hundreds of churchgoers who almost filled the street to go home after contemplating in the mass and spend the rest of the day with their families.

It was a usual Sunday morning in summer for my fellow townspeople of Naval. Along the street, I could see children still living in the Filipino custom of pagmamano wherein they raise a hand of their parents, grandparents and elders and let it touch onto their foreheads. Eventually, the former would kiss and hug the latter as a sign of respect and love. I could also hear churchgoers chatting with their kumpadre’s and kumare’s (male and female friends) on issues of the day, usually local and national.

We went home to get the things that I would be bringing for my four years of stay in Cebu. Before leaving, I thought of touching, tasting, and glancing at the things that I could no longer meet in Cebu. I went to my bedroom to make a last tight hug with my large white pillow, clothed in a simple white cloth, that I had been hugging for the last nine years. I stood up from the bed and moved towards the cabinet where I displayed my medallions. I gently rub the surface of some gold and silver medals I earned in my entire life and cheerfully listened to the clinks as I shook them together. Suddenly, I could hear my father exclaiming that we might not be able to catch up for the last trip to Ormoc. I went out of the room and dropped by the kitchen to have a final drink of the Biliranon water that gushed in abundance from a natural spring in the province. I could feel pleasure as its natural sweetness would cling to the walls of my throat. Then I told myself, “No wonder why our water was labeled as the ‘sweetest natural water in the world’ since the Ramos Administration.” When I was facing the door, I turned back and glanced at the altar that I constructed and designed for Jesus Christ and Mother Mary to thank them for my accomplishments since I was in second year high school.

Finally, I bid goodbye to my mother and my two younger sisters with a big smile hiding the unhappiness in me. Carrying and bringing huge and bulky bags, my father and I headed to the terminal to catch up the first trip to Ormoc City where we would ride a fast craft to Cebu. We rode in a sikad-sikad – a three-wheeled pedicab that needs to be pedaled. It is the vehicle that I love the most because it does not intoxicate my lungs at all unlike other vehicles. Sikad-sikad’s were the main means of transportation in the province though motorized vehicles came since the late 90’s.

We arrived at the terminal just at the brink of time when the van for Ormoc was about to go. The terminal was crowded with people and filled with noise. Majority of the mob were vendors of fishes and seashells, vegetables and sidewalk-cooked food calling the attention of the people who passed by their stalls but behind their call lied their pathetic begs for daily basic needs which they thought they were not blessed much with. At the right side was a group of teenage boys playing basketball as sweat drenched their bodies. Finally, I sighted the bay that is adjacent to the terminal. It is but not totally bordered by enormous mountains already in the jurisdiction of another neighboring province – Leyte. The waters were calm as the wind only blew scarcely that day.

As our journey started, I had a glimpse of the houses in Naval. Naval is the capital town of Biliran; hence, it is the focal area of the province where all institutions needed for development are present. I thought that would be my last time to see the few surviving ancient Gabaldon-type houses still struggling to stand despite old age, amid gorgeous modern stone houses. Those houses were built during the Japanese period of colonization in the country; however, their physique is that of ancient Spanish houses. They are characterized by wooden framework and are usually known for their windows that look like a humungous wafer. Some of them are already abandoned and are feared by many people who would say that they could see through the window an old woman with long grey hair dressed in white or they could hear spooky purrs of cats at night. The rest are still inhabited by the descendants of the owners.

When we were already out of the town proper, we passed by a vast space of plain land where millions of palay (rice stalk) were newly planted. The huge land is a conjunction of pieces of land owned by the native families of Naval including my family. In untilled areas, we saw few farmers riding on the back of fat and healthy-looking grey carabaos plowing the field. To protect their bodies from heat, the farmers wore salakot, which is a wide conical hat manufactured from dried reeds or rattan manually stitched together. They also dressed in long-sleeved shirt and long pants made out of thin and soft fabrics.

Meanwhile, the field is not just an agricultural land; it also serves as the land where the peasants and their families built their houses that are nipa huts. These huts are usually called Bahay-Kubo – the national type of house of the country, which is basically made up of bamboos tied together to serve as its body and its triangular roof is made out of weaved leaves of nipa (palm tree). Each hut has four short legs to prevent its floor from touching the ground; thus, protecting the dwellers from crawling creatures such as snakes and insects.

Out of the ricefield is the countrysideaverage development, less technology, and less people. Mostly, houses are wooden and are adorned by ornamental plants and most of them have fruit trees planted in their front yards. Beside the road were some men chatting with one another while some were playing chess on a chair simply made out of long lumber. The chessboard was laid between them that they would slouch when they made moves. Children were playing noisily with Filipino native games like tumbang-preso, dakup-dakupan (Tag, You’re It!) and luksong-baka (jumping over someone who positions himself like a cow). Meanwhile, most of the mothers attentively guarded their playing children while some industriously cleaned their front yards. What amazed me most were the smiles of these people that really manifested their satiety to the simplicity and serenity of their country life.

Past the countryside, we crossed over a narrow river that, if seen from a plane, looks like it intersects with the concrete bridge we used for crossing. Upon hearing the splashing sound of the torrent that bumped into some rocks, I remembered the moment when my family and my cousins in my father’s side went to Casiawan Falls in Cabucgayan – another town in Biliran that is almost an hour away from Naval. I was agape when I saw the waterfalls that looks like an infinitely long bridal gown of a mountain nymph and when I was under it, I felt it was embracing me with intense coldness that I shivered though I wore medially thick white shirt and short jeans. I also remembered the times when I enjoyed going to beach resorts with my classmates and friends during vacations. Some of those beach resorts have the same features with that of Boracay – white fine sands and clear blue sea – only that their cleanliness is always preserved.

After an hour of traveling, sighting landmarks, witnessing customs and traditions, and recalling memories I treasure from living in the province for fifteen years, we were already at the Biliran Bridge that stood high on blue calm waters of the Biliran Channel that were clear enough to reflect the azure skies and white fluffy clouds. We passed through the central part of the bridge enclosed by overlapping metal bars forming a resemblance of a birds’ nest with huge apertures to welcome the sunlight. From it, I got a view of few mysterious islets not so far from its left side. One islet appears to be a moss-covered bottom of an overturned bangka (sailboat) floating on waters for centuries. The other one bears similarity to a green shoe of a giant; thus the name, “Shoe Island”. Minute later, we were already out of the bridge and when I looked at it for the last time, I saw signage that hang from it exclaiming, “Welcome to Biliran!” I went to sleep and forced myself to dream of what would the life be in Cebu City as I waited for another hour to reach our next destination.#

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Author: pchan_august

Juris Doctor (Law) Graduate. Iskolar ng Bayan. Activist. Environmentalist. Frustrated Singer, Poet and Writer. Computer Enthusiast. Servant of the Masses. God's Servant.

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